Why single parents should put their kids second when dating


I meet most men that I date online. What do you look for when dating a man with kids?

It's very common for guys with kids to write in their eharmony.com profiles:

“My kids come first,”


“My daughter is the center of my world!”

I get where you're coming from.

You want a potential mate to know that your life includes the giant presence of a kid or four.

You also want women to know you're a devoted dad (it's no secret chicks get hot for guys who are great with kids!).

Got it. Roger!

Related: A dad explains: “Why I don’t see my child.”

Dating with kids

When it comes to relationships, I'm fond of saying, “You never really know what goes on between people.” 

But there are a few couples in my life who I look to as models of the kind of marriage I'd like one day.

People who really enjoy each other. Respect and support one another.

In these families, the parents put their relationship before the kids. They are the dynamic centriforce around which the family's life orbits. And everyone thrives as a result.

There is lots of research to suggest that a happy marriage is the cornerstone of well-adjusted kids.

Celebrity sex therapist Laura Berman, Ph.D., writes in her relationship guide, The Book of Love:

 “No matter how sacrilegious it sounds, you need to put your relationship before your children. A strong relationship provides security for your children and demonstrates how a loving, respectful partnership should be. What could be more important?”

That's a tricky proposition for single parents. If you're not in a committed relationship, it is very easy to make your kids the prominent one in your life.

After all, they can be so demanding — not to mention fulfilling.

Plus, if you've gone through a divorce or another crisis that landed you as a single parent, you are no doubt concerned about giving your kids extra care and sense of security.

Dating with blended families

It's no surprise that so many blended families I know struggle with adjusting all parties to a home where everyone is suddenly expected to revolve around the new relationship.

It can be so hard. Some find it impossible.

But it is even trickier if one or both of the parents put the kids before their partner.

One dad I went out with nearly boasted when telling me about a four-month relationship that went sour because his girlfriend did not understand why he'd abruptly leave in the middle of dinner because his tween son would call, upset about some matter with his hockey coach.

Another's girlfriend eventually broke up with him after several years because he rarely made time to spend alone with her, instead expecting constant family time with his son.

Ultimately, failure to put their partner first was a sign these guys were not ready for a serious relationship, or at least not with those particular women, and that is totally normal.

It's not cool to pay lip service to intentions of growing a serious, long-term relationship and from the onset demote your lover to second-rank — even before you message her on eharmony.

Women are certainly guilty of putting their kids ahead of their partner — maybe even more so than men, especially since they are nearly always the primary caregiver in the event of divorce.

But in this moment when men are struggling to claim their place as equal parents while society expects divorced dads to be the lackadaisical weekend father, I get why you are compelled to go overboard with your expressed devotion.

Guys! If you are indeed ready for a real love, create a space for her.

Stop putting kids first. Imagine a relationship that centers on the two of you, and all the stability and care your kids will take from that.

Accept that a truly wonderful relationship only multiplies the love available to your kids — not robs them of some of yours.

Because in those families, there is all the more love to go around.

Related: Close the pay gap? Get dads involved? Shared visitation, no child support

Great examples of couples who put their kids second in dating 

A couple years ago, a guy I went out with, read my blog before we went out, and mulled my opinions on putting your kids behind your romantic partner.

 Over cajun food, he described what sounds like a remarkably happy suburban childhood headed by parents who enjoyed a 40-year marriage, five kids, and two successful careers.

My date has only the fondest memories of watching his dad court his mom on their weekly date nights and annual parent-only vacations — in addition to the family road-trip.

Staying home with the babysitter was tons of fun. “My dad made it clear that his relationship with my mom was the center of everything, while he was also the best dad ever,” he said.

What could be a better example of the benefits of putting your romantic partner first?

What if you don't have a romantic interest to start with?

This Modern Love column in the New York Times (which I read religiously and am only slightly bitter about the fact the editor Daniel Jones has rejected more than a dozen of my submissions over the years BUT NEVERMIND!) highlighted a 2005 essay by Aylete Waldman about the fact that she puts her husband and their fantastic sex life above their four kids.

The most interesting thing about the essay was the resulting shitstorm of controversy which landed Waldman on a much-viewed Oprah episode during which a hostile audience nearly attacked her.

Yes, that essay is a decade old, but it warrants a revisit because parents — mothers most especially — are still expected to make our children the center of our worlds, and always put kids first. Waldman wrote:

I do love [my daughter]. But I'm not in love with her. Nor with her two brothers or sister. Yes, I have four children. Four children with whom I spend a good part of every day: bathing them, combing their hair, sitting with them while they do their homework, holding them while they weep their tragic tears. But I'm not in love with any of them. I am in love with my husband.

It is his face that inspires in me paroxysms of infatuated devotion. If a good mother is one who loves her child more than anyone else in the world, I am not a good mother. I am in fact a bad mother. I love my husband more than I love my children.

I love that Waldman challenges the institution that admonishes women for anything other than full-time adoration of their kids.

Waldman's work includes many of the points I've made here on this blog:

Many of you lapped up my essay about the fact that I don't live for my kids — and that is my biggest gift to them.

Putting kids before all else makes them neurotic and robs me of my potential to live the biggest, fullest life that I can — and model for my children that such a life is possible.

Putting kids first makes them neurotic and robs me of my potential to live the biggest, fullest life that I can — and model for my children that such a life is possible.

I've urged parents — single moms in particular — to prioritize their health above all else, including family time.

After all, you can't be an energetic mom now if you are overweight, and you are even more likely than single moms overall to burden your children in your old age if you don't care for your wellbeing now.

That despite my attempts to live said full life, I've found myself hugging my kids too much because I'm lonely — and that is entirely unfair to my son and daughter. Alas, I am only human.

I plan to read Waldman's essay collection, Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace, which promises to dig into the societal pressure moms face to put their children into the laser-sharp focus of their universes.

Liberating music to my ears! 

But Waldman has a husband she is crazy about. I don't.

Related: Why you should (probably) sell your heirloom jewelry

How does a single mom stop putting her kids first if you don't have a man to focus on instead?

In other words, how do you create space for a potential relationship when kids can be so all-consuming?

In the event you don't seek a romantic partner, where do you focus that energy if not on your children?

Cliche as it may sound: You gotta put yourself first.

That means taking care of your health. You must make it a top priority to hang out with other adults — girlfriends, dates, relatives, and friends.

It is not normal to spend all your time with children, nor make your offspring your primary emotional support.

And while you're at it, indulge in your instincts to have a fulfilling and profitable career — without any guilt whatsoever! — even though our culture tells you that stay-at-home mothers are better mothers.

The big takeaway

Stop feeling guilty.

Want to date? Go for it — AND DON’T FEEL GUILTY!

Need a sex life? NO GUILT FOR YOU – ONLY BOOTY!

Need to hit the gym? HIRE A SITTER AND DON’T LOOK BACK!

Looking forward to that business trip even though you have to leave the kids at home? KILL IT!

I’m not worried you'll neglect the kids. If you are like the professional moms I know, the pendulum swings way in the other direction — and you’re far more likely to neglect yourself.

About Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list. Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer. A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.


  1. Dont know what to do on November 13, 2018 at 9:45 pm

    I am currently in a relationship and my fiance had a 20 yr old and 24 yr old who does not help out, wont clean up, make messes for someone else to clean, room looks like a tornado went through it, just started working but would play video games all day, and sleep the rest of the day. Still will not pay a bill. My fiance makes sure she gets up extra early to make sure he gets to the bus stop for work. Mind you, this is only 5 min walk. She makes sure his lunch is made every day. She would make sure she got his hair cut when he wasnt working, paid his cellphone bill and put money in his pockets.. the oldest one is an alcoholic and she often bails out of jail and he doesnt pay her back and constantly needing money or needs her. When they both have money and jobs and girlfriends, u dont hear from them. She was in the hospital, she didnt hear from them..she was in jail for a.few days(wrongfully accused) they didnt ask about her..here I am cant get a lunch, all we do is argue about them not keeping the house clean or his room cleaned or even flushing the toilet. Despite how I feel and what I say she still puts those adult kids first and it is a strain on our almost 15 year relationship. I thought once they were grown it would be different but worse.

  2. Death Lord on December 8, 2018 at 4:59 pm

    Most normal think being a parent requires sacrfice. This belief involves putting the family first, as the family is already established, the foreginer is late to the party and needs to be compatible or else there will be nothing but fights.

    “I love my husband more than I love my children.” The defense of this statement doesn’t stand with me, in fact, now I just feel less interested in single mothers. That is not challanging the auidence with a new, striking way of thinking, as if she was a lone intellectual facing perscution.

    That is just a mother who is trying to justfy going out more.

  3. kathleen paquin on December 11, 2018 at 7:37 am

    I was a single parent working two jobs ,left my daughter father when she was 4 month as he would had killed me and most likely her.When she was nine I was going to get married when I told her she flipped out hitting me sreaming.We lived together for a year he asked her If he could be her dad she never answered him but did everything to destroy our relationship she could and it worked.He eventually left.I was 22 by the way .I put us both in counseling she refused to talk.She continued to break up any relationship I had.By the time she finished high school I had serious back problems from working 16 hour shifts all my adult life.Never got a cent child support,I was to scared of him he kidnapped me and beat me many times.I just wanted him to stay away.Plus he was in jail several times once he almost killed his father.My daughter wouldn’t go to college or trade school unless I paid 100 precent.I couldn’t work more then I already was as I was going to the pain clinic every month by now.She moved out after trying to hit me and telling me she didn’t have to f—— listen to me anymore.All because I asked her what time she was coming home.I furnished her apt.brought her food several times and always was there if she needed me.By the time she was 23 she got married called me on mothers day and disowned me.A year later she had a son I wasn’t allowed to see two years later she left her husband because she said she could do better.A year or two later not really sure she had another son by 2016 she had 5 children got married again and I haven’t seen her for around 13 years.Out of the blue she calls me says she sorry ,but she has told stranger so many lies about me.How my mother raised her and I never worked and was on drugs.I saw this on her facebook but never said nothing as it was the only way I could see what my grand children looked like.She doesn’t know I know this I’ve been disabled for 5 years now.I don’t trust her at all.I love her but I don’t like her.I did get married around 6 years after she disowned me.But I’m in pain everyday of my life.My spinal cord is enlarged,I have 4 pinched nerves and two disc compression my spinal cord.Partial feeling in my feet and nerve damage.All of this by the time I was 49 years old from working all the double shifts and 2nd jobs to raise her.She went to private school for 12 years.Was it worth it putting your child first.This is what you get back.You would think now that she is grown 34 years old.Her 2nd husband was accepted by her first son.That she would understand that her life would have been better if I wasn’t forced to be a single parent all her life as she got involved with someone real quick after leaving her husband,but she doesn’t.She says I tried to force people on her.I don’t know where we stand and I’m unsure what I even want with her,I gave this child everything her kids don’t have much at all and she seems fine with that.

  4. Notspecialanymore on December 22, 2018 at 6:42 pm

    Obviously my ex husband believes in this policy. He has chosen to not see our children on Christmas Day nor to spend any school holiday time with younger child in order to be with new Ukrainian girlfriend, who will be introduced to his family and friends and taken on holiday. This is a perfect example of putting partner ahead of children. I guess he wants to establish his relationship with her first. I have no choice but to accept it and according to this article, it is normal. I see it as the selfish behaviour of a midlife crisis and nobody cares about what he does or how it impacts others, except me, the now single mother.

    • greatmomcauseisaidso on February 20, 2019 at 5:47 pm

      So interesting! Your comment is spot on… what a ridiculous article. Divorce, although not uncommon, still remains a most difficult situation and transition for children. Of course a loving respectful relationship can be the most solid of foundations for a family but, if there is divorce, there is no loving solid foundation, perhaps there never was. Putting yourself, dates, and current or future partners on a priority level higher than your children is most certainly not in the best interest of your children. If you cannot respect a father or mother’s need to run to the aid of their child, regardless of how petty you feel the issue might be, then you need to definitely move on to your next choice of dates, If your children live with you most of the time, count yourself lucky and enjoy it, they will be out of your house sooner than you think, you will then be free to do as you like. If your children live with your ex the majority of the time and you just can’t seem to prioritize their needs over your date’s, lover’s, new partner’s, etc., that’s plain pitiful and probably indicative of why you are divorced in the first place.

      • Isittimetomoveon on March 10, 2019 at 10:36 pm

        I am currently in a 5 year relationship. I have 2 kids that live with us full time. He has 3 kids, 2 of them are the same age as my youngest. Sometimes we are on opposite weekends When this happens we literally have kids every weekend. I am fine with it as I know what I signed up for, just like he knows what he signed up for with me.
        My kids went to spend a week with my family. His kids asked to come over for the week because they didn’t want to go to daycare. They do spend a lot of time at daycare, more then the average kid.
        This week i asked if they could come later in the week. I wanted some down time. As the female all cooking falls on me and his daughter needs help washing her hair.

        For the last month I have taken off a lot of time from work to be him during a family emergency.
        During this week I was hoping to get caught up at work.

        Am I being selfish? Did I make him choose between me and his kids?

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  6. […] Why single parents should put their kids second when dating – I meet most men that I date online. What do you look for when dating a man with kids? It’s very common for guys with kids to write in their eharmony.com profiles: “My kids come first,” […]

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